"Officials in the western region of Xinjiang, home to roughly half of China’s 23 million Muslims, have released a list of banned baby names amid an ongoing crackdown on religion, according to a report by US-funded Radio Free Asia.
Names such as Islam, Quran, Saddam and Mecca, as well as references to the star and crescent moon symbol, are all unacceptable to the ruling Communist party and children with those names will be denied household registration, a crucial document that grants access to social services, healthcare and education.
A full list of names has not yet been published and it is unclear exactly what qualifies as a religious name.
China blames religious extremists for a slew of violent incidents in recent years that have left hundreds dead. It has launched a series of crackdowns in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur minority and one of the most militarised regions in the country.
Uighur rights groups complain of severe restrictions on religion and freedom of expression, and say the attacks are isolated incidents caused by local grievances, not part of a wider coordinated campaign. Young men are banned from growing beards in Xinjiang and women are forbidden from wearing face veils.
Rights groups were quick to condemn the name ban, which applies to dozens of names deemed by Communist party officials to carry religious overtones. “This is just the latest in a slew of new regulations restricting religious freedom in the name of countering ‘religious extremism,’” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression.